TCEQ’s internship program provides opportunity

From learning about the watermaster program in the Rio Grande Valley, to air monitoring in Central Texas, or gathering groundwater samples in the Dallas region, these college students come from diverse backgrounds pursuing degrees related to the environment, science, engineering, public administration, public health, computer technology, accounting, business, law, and communications. These are just a few of the 125 interns who make up this year’s TCEQ Mickey Leland Environmental Internship Program (MLEIP).

Now in its 31st year, the mission of the MLEIP is to cultivate citizens of the world, said Diana Rader, Advisory Board President of the program. Since it began, more than 2,600 college students have been placed in internships across Texas. The internships provide meaningful work experience through structured assignments and networking opportunities that strategically develop the interns’ marketable skills and build their self-confidence.

“This internship program is unique in that it is administered by the TCEQ but is accessible to private companies, other public agencies, and organizations outside of the TCEQ,” Rader said. “In other words, the program recruits a diverse talent pipeline from universities across Texas and beyond and identifies internship opportunities either within the agency or with external sponsors.”

With close to 500 undergraduate and graduate students applying for the paid internship program every year, the program has seen significant growth in its three decades. When it began, the internship program placed about 30 interns each summer compared to the average of 130 now. In addition, the number of external sponsors has grown from about five to nearly 40 organizations that expressed interest in selecting interns this year.

Named after former U.S. Congressman Mickey Leland, the program was started in 1991. Leland was passionate about his community and the environment and served as an advocate for the poor and the hungry in both the U.S. and across the world.

Because of this passion, one of the goals of the MLEIP is to heighten the awareness and encourage the participation of minorities, women, and economically disadvantaged college/university students regarding environmental-related issues and policies.

The interns in this year’s class represent 16 different universities, including the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, University of Houston, Macalester College, and Vanderbilt University.

For one of the interns with our air quality monitoring team in Austin, becoming a Mickey Leland intern was decided when TCEQ held a water quality seminar at her elementary school. From there, Emily Saculla said she was “instantly hooked.” Now she’s pursuing a master’s degree in environmental policy and regulations.

Meanwhile, Andrew Villareal is already reaping the benefits of his MLEIP internship with the City of Leander. Upon his mentor’s recommendation, he applied and was accepted into the first-ever Texas Division of Emergency Management Academy. He starts August 1.

Success is not uncommon for the interns of this program. In fact, according to Rader, many MLEIP intern alumni have gone on to great success, including positions as the environmental program coordinator for the City of Austin, environmental protection specialist at the Texas Department of State Health Services, a meteorologist at KVEO News, and an attorney at the International Justice Mission Kampala. Others have gone on to work for TCEQ, including a retired deputy executive director, a regional office director in Harlingen, and a senior GIS analyst in Austin.

Now able to introduce a more flexible work environment, with opportunities that vary from working in-person, to working virtually, or a hybrid approach depending upon the needs of the employer, this program continues to grow and evolve and is ready to continue serving those students with a passion for the environment.